holiday season

Helpdesk Q&A: Holiday Help

Wondering how to get through the holidays? You’re not alone. Many families with a loved one on the spectrum feel overwhelmed this time of year and contact Milestones for some extra support. Below, Program Director Beth Thompson answers some of the most common questions we hear during the holiday season.

What can I do to make traveling easier for my loved one?
Milestones has compiled tips for you to ensure that your travel for a vacation or family gathering starts and ends on a positive note. Read the Milestones Travel Tips Toolkit for ways to make your flights successful! When possible, have your loved one visit the airport and go through a “mock run”. Also, check to see if there are school groups or organizations like Wings for Autism in your area who can help your family with this.

How do I make my home welcoming for loved ones with autism?
Reference our “How to Make a Place Welcoming” quick tips! Don’t be afraid to the teen or adult or their parent how to make gatherings better for them. They will be grateful you asked instead of assumed.

How do I encourage my child to come out of their room to spend time with family?
Make a contract with them and negotiate when and how long you would like them to participate with the family. Assure them you are not trying to take away all their downtime or screen time. The pleasantries and increased social expectations of the holidays may be lost to our loved one or may not matter to them at all. That’s okay – use what does matter to them (another ten minutes on their video game) to motivate them to join you at the dinner table.

There is so much to do this month – how will my family juggle it all?
Take time to prioritize what’s really important to you and your family during the holiday season. If getting a picture with Santa is important enough to struggle through a possible meltdown, make that the goal and support your child with visual supports, reinforcements, and social stories to help them reach that goal. If having your child sit down as part of the family meal or service is the top priority, make a plan to help your child understand the schedule and provide their favorite reinforcers through the activity.

How do I ensure my child’s caregiver enjoys their holiday season?
Make sure you are planning a break for everyone, including YOU! Your child’s teacher and therapist get a winter break – do you or your child’s other supports, like your partner or their siblings, get a break too? Even if it’s 20 minutes of secluded ice cream time after dinner, make sure you are taking breaks for yourself. If you need more in-home support to get your break, reach out to Milestones to get referrals for respite providers or aides. Remember, you do not have to go it alone.

I am worried my child will get restless during downtime. How do I help my child enjoy their winter break?
Make a plan to keep your loved one engaged while on break. Schedule a few specific activities that they will enjoy – a trip to see sensory-friendly Santa, a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley train, a trip to the zoo – these activities will help your child remain excited and motivated to work towards their desired activities (find autism friendly events here).

How should I deal with friends or relatives who don’t know my loved one is on the spectrum?
People may have questions about how to best interact with them. Relieve their concerns and give them this Milestones cheat-sheet on how to be a friend or relative to someone on the spectrum.

As always, you can email, message our team through Facebook, or call Milestones’ free Helpdesk at (216) 464-7600 if you need further guidance.

 

On the forefront of transition and adult services, Beth Thompson is Milestones’ Program Director. Beth has a Master’s degree coupled with extensive hands-on experience working with high school students with autism. Whether students are college or career bound, Beth is instrumental in helping teens successfully transition to adulthood.

bthompson@milestones.org
(216) 464-7600 x 108

 

Straight From the Source – How to Survive the Holidays as an Adult on the Spectrum

Some of my greatest memories are holiday-related. For example, the Christmas of 1982 when Santa placed under our tree a stuffed prairie dog—Prairie Pup. My new special interest quickly became prairie dogs for the next eight years. Prairie Pup and I were inseparable, until I began middle school and Prairie Pup became the first prairie dog to be expelled from the Oakland County Schools. The special education teachers informed my parents, “Your son is too old to be carrying a love-worn prairie dog, desperately needing Rogaine.”

During the holidays, I have experienced meltdowns and stress. When I was seven years old, my Christmas gift was an army outfit, equipped with a toy machine gun, walkie-talkies, and binoculars. After a few days, the trigger on the machine gun broke. My parents did not send it back to the North Pole for repairs but instead returned it to Sears for a new set. The new army set was complete except for one small detail —the binoculars were a different style, a 1940’s design compared to modern. When I saw the new binoculars in the box—the former ones missing—my emotions erupted. I began hitting my head relentlessly, smashing everything in my path. My meltdown lasted ten straight hours; it only ceased after my parents went back to Sears and found my original binoculars.

Luckily for my family and friends I have learned five survival techniques for the holidays I think all individuals on the spectrum should consider trying.

1.) Reduce stress by dressing comfortably for holiday events. During the holidays, I enjoy wearing my Frosty the Snowman pajamas and Star Wars T-shirts. These clothes help my sensory issues stay balanced and cause me to feel calm.

2.) Be prepared for the environment of holiday events. My dad has severe asthma. If the family hosting an event has a dog or cat, my dad will politely ask them to keep the pet in another room to prevent him from having an asthma attack. I have sensory issues to smoke, so like my father, I have to plan ahead to avoid what could affect me. So I won’t attend any holiday events where people will be smoking.

3.) Know who to avoid at holiday events. Certain family members can be annoying and rude especially for us on the spectrum. The aunt who has a funky body odor and loves to give you a big hug. Your uncle who asks more questions than an inquisition. These family members can add stress to your holiday so minimize your time with them if you need to.

4.) Bring a fun bag that helps relieve anxiety. My fun backpack contains books and toys. When I become bored or overwhelmed by the noise of the nieces and nephews playing, I sneak off and read a book.

5.) Always have an escape route. At my parents’ house, I have a man cave with over 4,000 books and a Calico Critter collection. When I feel stressed out, I hide in my cave. The escape route for you could be going for a walk outside or a room away from the guests.

 

Ron Sandison is the founder of Spectrum Inclusion and is employed in the mental health field. He is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom, published by Charisma House. Sandison speaks at over 70 events a year including 20 conferences. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a daughter, Makayla.

sandison456@hotmail.com